The tragedy that occurred in Lafia, capital of Nasarawa State, last Monday was the perfect example of a disaster foretold. According to eyewitness accounts, fire was said to have been ignited from the sparks generated by a head-on collision involving an okada, (motorcycle) rider and a keke (tricycle) driver right in the vicinity of a gas station with an unattended leaking pipe. In the immediate aftermath, 18 persons were burnt to death and scores injured.
What resulted was a tragedy which left the city of Lafia, the state and the nation at large to rue the avoidable and wasteful loss of lives and property. The state governor, Tanko Al-Makura, cut short his trip from outside the state to return for an on-the-spot assessment of the incident. Bodies of the dead were evacuated to the state hospital morgue while the many injured were taken to a private hospital. The governor has promised that the state would bear the cost of treatment of those injured, including overseas treatment if necessary.
We commend the governor for his immediate response to the tragedy, but regret that the unfortunate accident once again draws attention to our lack of local capacity and general indiscipline in locating such very sensitive facilities. The gas station was located next to a filling station, and very close to the road. In the last one year or so there have been gas explosion tragedies in several towns in the country. Those of Lagos, Nnewi and Jos easily come to mind. The location of facilities like filing and gas stations have to be carefully sited at reasonable distances from living quarters and congested business premises. Even more important, those who approve the locations for such facilities must ensure that all safety measures are in place and that they are regularly supervised to ensure compliance and when breaches occur, that adequate and prompt enforcements are meted out.
We must put the necessary premium on human lives. We cannot say we take ourselves seriously enough, when every now and again, we return to business as usual, after every disaster. It is the story of the man who lives in a fool’s paradise and expects a different outcome from doing the same thing all the time.
In the Lafia gas accident, there was clear dereliction of duty by all concerned. Apart from the failure of the approving authorities, there is the culpability of the station managers at the gas plant who neglected to attend to a leaking gas pipe until disaster resulted. What were they expecting, if not disaster, from a highly inflammable product oozing out from its pipes unattended? Then there is the query for the public safety officials in the state. Where was the supervision and enforcement of minimum safety standards?
Perhaps a few more lives would have been saved if help was not delayed in the immediate aftermath of the accident. Not enough consideration has been given to rescue and emergency operations capability in the state and the nation as a whole.
Our concern in all this is that we do not return to business as usual after sorrow and public grieving have passed. This is the best opportunity for government to work with the appropriate agencies to ensure the full compliance with the extant laws and regulations as they relate to the location and operation of gas and filling stations. They are presently observed in the breach nationwide. Some of the reasons that have been adduced for this malfeasance may not be unconnected with corruption of the officials who regulate and supervise their operations.
That is why it would not be enough for state executives to give the order about relocating such volatile products to safer places. They must ensure full compliance and within reasonable time frame. This must happen not only in Nasarawa, but the country as a whole.